When Calvin Berg first picked up a referee’s whistle at the age of 13, he could never have predicted just how far it could take him.
Nine years later, that decision to get involved as a referee has taken him to some of the largest and most prestigious youth football tournaments in Europe.
Calvin has recently returned from officiating at the Dana Cup in Denmark and the Youdan Trophy in Sheffield, England – tournaments that attract elite boys and girls teams from around the world to compete.
The ambitious Berg wasn’t going to settle for just soaking up the atmosphere though, with his performances earning him the opportunity to control some of the biggest matches of the tournaments.
“At the Dana Cup, I was fortunate enough to be appointed to the 17s girls’ final which was broadcast live on TV across Denmark,” said Berg. “My Kiwi colleague Ben O’Connell from Christchurch was assistant referee, and we had two English lads as the other assistant and fourth official.”
“At the Youdan Trophy, we were lucky enough to get appointed to the boys’ 14 semi-final. These were good appointments that showed our hard work was rewarded.”
Berg, who hails from Texas but now proudly calls Dunedin home, started reffing while young and quickly realised that officiating could provide even greater opportunities than playing the game he loved.
“I played from a young age but was never really that good a player, then I started refereeing my little brother’s games and realised this is something I could really get into so I undertook the official courses. I think I’ve really found my niche now as a referee.”
A fascinating aspect of the tournaments in Europe was the opportunity for Berg to experience vastly different styles of football from that here.
“For New Zealand football referees it can be difficult to experience different styles of football,” said Berg, “so if you want to develop as a referee, and see other styles and cultures then it’s really crucial to travel and experience other types of football. At the same time, it really shows off the beauty of the game… you see it’s just one language, everybody speaks football.”
While Berg is obviously inspired by high profile referees around the world, he gets his greatest inspiration much closer to home.
“I’m most inspired by NZ referees who have made it to World Cups like Peter O’Leary and Mike Hester, because they have set a precedent for us as NZ referees to be able to make it onto the world stage and perform.
“Anna-Marie Keighley has also been a definite source of inspiration, as she went to the 2015 Women’s World Cup and got a semi-final which is literally the second highest game you can get there. She got the game ahead of professional referees so that was inspiring for all referees across our country.”
Berg, who is finishing a Bachelor of Science in Energy Studies at the University of Otago, would love to see more people take up the whistle – even if it’s just to simply be involved in the beautiful game.
“It doesn’t have to be a big dream to go to a World Cup, it can just be something you do for 90 minutes on a Saturday. The key is just to get as many people involved as possible. An easy selling point, especially with the younger generation, is that it’s better to get on the football pitch and do something that’s fun and enjoyable than flipping burgers or something. I want as many people as possible to take that initial step and try it. Give it a shot – what’s the worst that can happen?”
Berg, who is in the process of applying for NZ Citizenship, is immensely grateful for the support he’s received from the Football South team in realising his dream.
“I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without the support of Football South. Chris Wright and Jeff Clamp have given me the opportunity to get experience and be seen by other assessors. Obviously this past winter it’s been great to have the support and investment from NZ Football to help me and my colleague Ben to get overseas.”
He’s also grateful for the support and teamwork from fellow officials.
“We’re really a team out on the field and we always offer each other support. I like to remind people that we’re the ‘third team’. Initially the reason that we find ourselves on a pitch is that we love football in some capacity.”
Berg wants to remind the players that they’re all involved in the game for the same reasons. “We’re humans just as you are. You’re going to miss shots, we can make a bad call. But we share that same passion and love for the game.”
Berg has a big summer ahead, having been selected as a referee for the upcoming ISPS Handa Premiership. Although our region has had a number of local assistant referees and 4th officials, the 22 year old will become the first Football South referee in approximately a decade to take charge of games in NZ’s premier football competition.
Football South are always on the lookout for anyone who is keen to get involved as a referee. Contact Referee Development Manager Jeff Clamp to explore the possibilities.
Story by Morgan Jarvis. Additional photos by Rab Smith.